The Beautiful People
by John Guilfoyle and Scott Bennie




OMEGA:

It's been seven months and twenty-nine days since Rachel broke up with me. It's been seven months and twenty-six days since I found her kissing my former best friend Kenny at the back of Milford High. Since then I've had plenty of fucks. I've found friendship, too -- though, I still haven't figured out whether Michael is gay or not, and whether the shit we do together is due to some deep-seated homoerotic attraction that my brain can't wrap itself around. But the one thing I've missed in my life is genuine love, that 'you like each other so fucking much that your bodies have hermetically bonded' sort of love that I got when I was with Rachel.

Why the fuck is that? Is it because I'm so fucking handsome in this nifty muscle-factory superhero body that no one wants to touch me for fear of breaking the "Ken doll." Am I so fucking perfect that I scare the shit out of people? Or is it because I'm a fucking foul-mouthed asshole who becomes a complete shithead at a moment's notice?

"Tommy, stop fucking with yourself," I tell myself, looking at myself naked in the mirror.

"Mr. Champion." Stan walks into the room, and then turns around again. Stan's my personal assistant. He's about 5'8", in his late 20s, with a decent, athletic build; I don't think I have any friends who has more than 10% body fat. Nike gave him to me as a gift a week ago, to help me after I moved out of Michael's place. He's a smartass who cuts me down any chance he gets; at first I wondered if Frigia didn't sic him on me as a spy, but apparently Nike's HR Department made the hire and no one loathes Frigia's marketing machine as much as they do.

"Don't worry Stan, I'm a real casual guy," I say. It's fucking funny to shock your personal assistant, especially in this town. I guess I just need a nervous laugh. "I need some advice."

"About what?"

"Well, I'm meeting Knock-out for this photo shoot, and I just want to know shit, I'm really not sure how to explain myself. Well you know"

"I don't know. There's only one person capable of telepathy in this room, and sadly, it isn't me," Stan replies.

"Am I well, am I sexy?" I ask.

"Naked or clothed?" Stan smiles.

"Both!" I declare. "I mean, will I be sexy to Knock-out? Do you think she'll be interested in me?"

"So you're looking for a cheap lay?" Stan can be fucking rude at times.

"Isn't everyone?" I respond. Stan rolls his eyes. "By the way, Stan, I prefer the expression 'cheap fuck'. It's a little more straightfortward than 'lay.'"

"I stand corrected," Stan says, acidly. "But if you want my honest opinion, you're full of does the word 'shit' meet your vocabulary standards?

"Yeah," I say. "'Shit' is great."

"Fine. You're full of shit, and you know it. You're one of the most attractive people who have ever lived. All you need to do is keep your mouth shut and be considerate toward your partner, and you could have any woman you want on the planet."

"I wish that were true. Every time I back off, they get offended that I'm not paying attention. Every time I try to make a move, they get scared because I get too direct. Is there any fucking way to win?"

"No," Stan says. "Have fun."

The little bastard.

******

I wanted to skip the penny office tour, let Chester hammer out the details of my contract, and meet Knock-out at the shoot, but the old boy insisted that I go to the office and smile for people and make them feel easier about me.

"But Chester, Omega's a badass!" I argue. "They're not supposed to feel easy about me."

"Tommy, leave the fucking role-playing for the goddamn press," Chester replies in his New York Yiddish accent. "If you treat people better than they fucking expect, you'll have the world sucking on your cock."

"But Chester, I don't want the world wanting to suck my cock!" I protest.

"You know what I mean!" Chester counters. "Stop being so fucking literal. Now I want you go to that office and be so goddamn likable that they'll want to bear your fucking child!"

"Even the guys?" I ask.

"Especially the guys!" Chester says, and he proceeds to tell me the exact same thing he just told me at least six times (I lose count).

Fuck. I'd really wanted to meet Knock-out at the shoot, on the beach, with the wind in my hair, sun on the fucking water, looking blond and tan and perfectly Californian. I didn't want to meet her in some fucking office where we get to be bored by a fucking meeting, just to please some executive assholes who feel they have to piss in our lives when we're taking a fucking shower.

It all comes down to sex, of course. Sex, plain and simple. I know there are some people who call me a "lowest common denominator" kind of guy. "Salt of the earth" is my preferred bullshit term.

With that thought in mind, I arrive at People Magazine's main office. One thing that Los Angeles lacks are truly impressive fucking office buildings; I think that they're worried what an earthquake would do to these sons of a bitches. In a way, if the Big One ever hits, it'd be more fun watching what it'd do in a place like New York City, although being a superhero on that day would really fucking suck.

"Hi, I'm Fred Goldstein." I'm greeted by the big boss, the managing editor, which I suppose is a good sign. He's fiftyish, balding, and trying hard to marry competence with a youth-oriented market that he's way too old to represent (sorry, Michael's influence, I'm sure). He introduces me to "dada girl," a photographer named Nada Levitz. She wears baggy painter's pants, a tight halter top, and her brunette hair is pulled into a loose ponytail. Her duffel bag, full of film, accompanies her like a security blanket, and she has three cameras strapped around her neck. She looks like she just got out of fucking high school.

But that makes three of us, if you count the blond.

"Whoa," I say, as I catch my first glimpse of Knock-out. My eyes saucer, I wet my lips, and I lean forward in a dorky, uncontrollable motion.

******

KNOCK-OUT:

For some reason, I'm not nervous about this. Must be getting used to the pressure or something. Either that or I'm just getting numb. I guess I shouldn't complain -- things are getting a tad easier. The interview with the Protectorate -- now that sucked. Some of the early promotional work I did, and the commercial, they were pretty stressful too. But the movie audition this week went pretty smoothly, and for whatever reason, the butterflies that usually play around in my stomach during this sort of thing seem to be taking the day off or something. It's weird, but I've been fretting about meeting Omega all week -- ever since People Magazine called with the idea for the article.

"Straighten your posture," mom says, pressing against my lower back with her hand.

I do, and it feels as awkward as ever. I look at the reflection in the polished

elevator wall, and the girl I see is beautiful -- stunning even. So why doesn't it feel like it's me? Because it's not. Not yet. I guess I was just getting used to being Sarah Steiner when along comes Knock-out to steal the show.

Mom nods, satisfied that I've arched my back and projected my chest an appropriate amount. "That's better," she says as the elevator dings and the doors slide open. Thirty seconds later, we're outside Mr. Goldstein's office, and his secretary tells us he'll be with us momentarily. Mom and I sit, and she brushes a bit of dark fuzz from my thigh. I'm wearing a short, cream-colored silk dress; it's got spaghetti straps, a fitted waist, and a daring neck-line. Janet, my clothing advisor, had it made for my trip out to L.A. Natalie and George had done their parts to perfection as well; I don't think I've ever seen my hair or make-up look so good, so flawless. It's a breezy, sexy look they've got going for me, but I'm just happy because I get to wear sandals instead of heels with this outfit.

I wonder what Omega is going to look like in person... the few times I've seen him on television, he looks like some kind of god -- talk about flawless. But more importantly, what's he going to be like? An article I read on the plane during our flight out was pretty critical. Concluded that he was a jerk. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt -- I know that I'm not the person the media says I am. Actually, I'm a lot more boring than who they say I am, but the trick is keeping them from finding that out.

The door to Mr. Goldstein's office opens up as I'm wondering just what the photographer is going to want to do, and Goldstein smiles and waves us in.

"Ladies! Come in, come in. I'm Fred Goldstein. Sorry to keep you waiting. Just had Brad Pitt on the phone."

"Oh," I say plainly, not really knowing how to respond to his name-drop.

Inside the office, which is surprisingly San Francisco for being in L.A., is a young woman -- as young as me, even. She must be the--

"This is Nada Levitz, one of our photographers," Goldstein states.

"Hi," Nada says, stepping forward to shake my hand. She's one of those super-hip artsy girls, the kind I envied in high school. She's cool, and she knows it. I completely tower over her, and for some reason it makes me a little self-conscious. I step back and smooth my dress as my mother greets her.

"So what did you have in mind for this shoot?" mom asks her directly.

"All kinds of cool stuff," Nada answers with a wry smile. I don't like the way she's looking at me, sizing me up.

"Let's not get into that until Mr. Champion arrives," Goldstein says.

On cue, Goldstein's phone buzzes, and his secretary's voice fills the room.

"Mr. Champion's here to see you, sir."

"Send him right in," Goldstein returns, moving over to open the door. When

Tommy Champion steps into the room all eyes are on him. He's incredible. Ten times more handsome in person than on T.V. A hundred times. My mouth goes dry as Goldstein makes the introductions.

When he gets to me, Champion does a bit of a double take. "Whoa...," he says, leaning forward a bit awkwardly. I take his hand and shake it, sort of unsure of what else I should do. I smile without knowing I'm doing it, and meet his eyes with mine.

"Hi," I say simply. His touch is electric. My nipples are rock-hard, and I'm sure they're clearly visible though this dress, but I don't care. I've never met anyone like him, never met anyone so magnetic, so...

"So, let's get down to business," Goldstein breaks in. "We've got a lot to talk about, a shoot to do this afternoon, and a plane to catch in the morning."

******

OMEGA:

"I don't think so," I say. I concentrate, and perform one of my weirder tricks. Suddenly the world around me and Knock-out stops moving.

"What'd you just do?" Knock-out says, surprise in those big blue eyes.

"Well, I just got here, I'm introduced to one of the most beautiful women I've ever laid eyes on, and all they want to do is talk itineraries. Screw that" I want to say "fuck that," but "screw" is more appropriate around women. "I can play these weird little magic tricks. I can cause the world around us to stop, but as soon as we react to what's going on outside, or even move around in here, things go back to normal speed."

"Uh, okay," Knock-out says. I can't blame her for being a little freaked. "So what'd you want to talk about?"

"I dunno," I say. "Would it be sexist to say that I just want to look at you?"

"Well, yes!" Knock-out exclaims, but she's laughing too. And I can see her tits showing through her blouse, and she can probably see my crotch bulging too.

"Fine. I'm a sexist fucking pig." I smile, and I start to oink. She laughs, but it's a bit of a nervous laugh. "Don't worry. I sympathize. With my powers, a lot of people see me as some beefcake himbo who belongs on Baywatch. I suppose it's one of the reasons why I act like such an asshole. As long as it doesn't sound like I'm performing a 'hissy fit'" I use an over-the-top faggot voice for the words, "they'll treat me with a little more respect."
 

She laughs again, a little more naturally this time, then says, "Maybe I should try that."

"So what's it like being a superhero in New Yawk City?" I ask. It's pretty much an icebreaker question, like asking about the weather, or whether you've fought any supervillains lately. It's been observed more than once that conversations between superheroes tend to boil down to sharing war stories (except for those superheroes old enough to have kids -- child stories trump all suits when you're a parent).

"It's okay," she answers, maybe looking a little self-conscious about the fact that it's only the two of us in the room moving and talking. Or maybe about the way her fucking dress is clinging to her body like a second skin. "I'm from a small town in the South originally, so it's kind of a big adjustment, moving to such a busy city." There's no hint of a southern accent as she adds, "How about you? You like living out here?"

"Well, I'm pretty new to Los Angeles," I reply. "The weather's great. More sunshine than heaven, big surf and some of the best beaches on the planet. Unfortunately it has more than its share of poverty, crime, and lawyers. And occasionally, you'll get your share of nasties."

"Like Sandstone? And the Black Priest?"

"Uh" I'm really not proud of that particular fight, even though I didn't lose. "I had help with that one. Permafrost and I make a pretty good team."

"You don't mind if you tell me about it. I like to know what my potential enemies can do."

I hide a sigh from her, and begin to do a Monday Night football style play-by-play of the battle, sans Dennis Miller. I suppose I could always produce a videotape of the battle from my senses' point-of-view (shit, my powers are scary). But I think she gets the message about how goddamn frightening Sandstone is, even for a guy with my level of strength and toughness.

I thank God she hasn't gone tomboy on me yet. I really don't need to know who'd win between us in a fight, or who's stronger. She's a bit quieter than I expected, but I can be fucking intimidating on first contact.

"I'll have to get a heads up from you on the Matrons." I read a report that she had fought the Matrons of Mayhem in some New York City club. She begins to start her report, and I make a small gesture. "Later. I think there's another question that's on both of our minds." I smile. "We're two attractive, hot, young superheroes, and we're incredibly powerful, and we're going to spending a lot of time together, and..." I draw out the word.

"And?"

"When do you think the supervillains are going to show up?" I say with a laugh.

A half-second passes before she smiles, and it's obvious that she was thinking I was going to say something else entirely. Good. "Last time I tangled with one, it was a really tough fight, so I'm hoping not to see any bad guys while I'm out here, to be honest with you," she answers. "So that means we'll probably get attacked at the beach. And at the Grand Canyon. And in San Francisco. And maybe on the plane on our way home."

I laugh, and I lower the time field. The world goes back to normal, and everyone else in the room sees our features suddenly blur. We get the oddest looks.

"You don't think what, Mr. Champion?" Goldstein says.

"Oh, nothing." I say, feigning innocence. "But there's one thing I've got to do before we get to the briefing." I put my hand behind me, and a red rose appears in it. I bend over Knock-out (though I don't have to bend much; she's pretty tall and thickly built -- sort of a blonde version of the WWF's Chyna, but much more feminine and with a face like a younger Pamela Anderson), and I place the rose in her hair.

One of the women in her entourage gasps. Because I was mussing up her hair? Nah, Jesus Christ, Tommy, nobody could be that much of a fucking control freak. I guess she must know my reputation and overreacted. As long as I don't freak out Knock-out, I don't care what her hanger-ons think.

"You know, we'll have to remove it for the shoot," Dada Nada says.

"Venice is one of my favorite hang-outs, and I know some of the better bodybuilding types," I say, ignoring the comment. "I can direct them to you."

"We have our own talent, Mr. Champion," Goldstein says.

"Let's not be hasty," Nada says. "If it doesn't throw off the schedule, I'd be more than happy to use native talent. It'll make it more authentic."

Good. These artsy types can be a fucking pain, but unlike the Madison Avenue shitheads, they actually care about quality.

We get the rundown on the rest of the schedule. It promises some pretty scenery. A lot of the poses are humiliating: according to Ms. Levitz, I'll be military pressed by Knock-out (while holding up a pyramid of posing body-builders balanced on a platform), have Knock-out kick sand in my face while I'm tanning, and have Knock-out kick a sand castle in the shape of the Protectorate satellite HQ in my face. The most humiliating pose has me kneeling on the ground, clutching Knock-out's leg, while she stares down some menacing bodybuilders. Shit, this sounds like fun.

"When do we do the nude pose?" I say.

"Knock-out does not do nude poses!" the woman who gasped earlier suddenly exclaims.

"Jesus, what are you, her mother?" I mutter.

"I most certainly am!" the woman declares. Fuck, does the room ever go silent. Shit! Momma just had to graft herself onto her daughter's hip. This was really going to make it a lot fucking harder to have sex with her.

"You need to get a sense of humor, mom." I say. "We're not being paid enough to go nekkid, even though every heterosexual male in America would give up their right nut for it."

******

KNOCK-OUT:

The meeting didn't take so long after all, thankfully. The contracts were finalized, we went over a bunch of ground rules -- mostly legal stuff -- and got a much better feel for what was expected of us. Tommy's kind of... I don't know. Charming, in a way, but really... forward. No, not forward. Confident? Yeah. Conceited? Sort of. I can't peg him yet, but he's an interesting guy for sure -- even beyond that fact that he can stop time when he wants to.

What the hell was that, anyway? How does someone just 'stop' time for everyone except himself? It's times like these that I start to feel like I'm in waaaay over my head with this stuff. What can I do? Bend steel bars. Punch things hard. Break stuff. Compared to people like Omega -- and the Baroness -- my powers seem pretty lame.

I will admit, though, it was pretty flattering that he did it for me. Maybe I should stop worrying about not feeling comfortable looking like this, and just enjoy what it brings me. Like the attention of guys like Tommy. Would he have even noticed I was in the room if he'd seen me a couple of years ago? No way. I'm getting changed in a trailer near the beach at the moment, in front of a full-length mirror, so I'm getting a good look at my body. They really did do a killer job. I think I need to relax about it.

"You almost ready?" mom calls to me, peeking over the dressing screen.

"Yeah," I answer, struggling to close my bikini top. I'm really packed into this thing, and I hope it holds when Tommy -- should I be calling him Tommy already? --when Tommy and I get doing some of the stupider stuff they want to photograph. The silvery material seems pretty strong, and it's a flattering cut, so I don't feel too self-conscious when I step out from behind the screen. All the tanning sessions have paid off, I'm glad to see. My blotchy skin is a thing of the past, and I don't even have any tan lines. Come to think of it, I look like I live in California, not New York. Pretty funny.

"Jesus Christ," my mother says, her eyes wide. "Make sure you don't fall out of that thing. They're waiting for you outside."

"Okay. Tell them I'll be right there," I return, catching sight of the rose that Tommy had put in my hair -- which was now in the garbage can, thanks, I'm sure, to my mother. Mom had freaked when he'd done it, and had continued freaking all the way back to our hotel, and all the way over to the beach. This is her dream come true, getting me this kind of press so early on, so I can't figure out why she's so bent out of shape over something so innocent. Well, I guess I can. It's Tommy. She doesn't trust me with him. Probably figures that he'd bang me in a heartbeat, and that I'll jump on him first chance I get.

Not that I haven't thought about it. I can't help it. I've been really frustrated lately, that way. Even though things are going pretty cool with Mark, it's always in the back of my mind that we can only go so far, that I'll just hurt him if we ever really get physical. Tommy is probably one of about a dozen or so guys in the whole freaking country I can safely have sex with. But I don't want to go there mentally, or I'll just mess everything up. So instead I just screw up my courage and step out of the trailer into the hot Californian sunshine.

I'm shocked at what I see. Since I've arrived and changed, like hundreds of people have arrived to watch the shoot. Maybe even a thousand. Tommy looks like he's lapping it up. God, he's got a great body. They've put him in trunks that are nearly as skimpy as what I'm wearing, I see.

The crowd cheers when they see me, and I wave and smile as I walk over to where Nada's got everything set up. I've never seen such a collection of huge guys and beach bunnies. A lot of these guys are bigger than Tommy -- but his physique is, I don't know, just perfect. The girls, I don't know how they compare to me. I've never been a good judge of that sort of thing, and I've kind of lost all perspective these last couple of years.

Tommy sees me and smiles, just as I'm thinking what a bizarre culture it is that we live in. Nudity is taboo. No penises, no vaginas, no bare breasts allowed. Butts are okay in small doses. But look at all these people! Look at me! We all might as well be naked. We can all see every curve, every bulge, every inch. Sometimes I just don't get it.

"Hey," Tommy says, looking sun-bronzed and hot. Hot as in sexy, though he also just looks hot. The sun is still pretty intense, even though it's starting to get low in the sky -- which is just what Nada wanted.

As make-up people rush over for last-minute touch-ups, I respond, "Hi Tom. I meant to thank you earlier for the flower... so, thanks. That was really sweet."

"Well, dad tried to teach me some manners," he smiles. "And occasionally some of it leaked through this thick skull of mine."

"Okay you two," Levitz says, approaching with a massive camera at the ready. "All set? Are we ready?"

"Yep," I answer, looking at Tommy, trying to read his eyes as the crowd whoops and hollers in the background. "Let's do it."

******

OMEGA:

Well, it's official. I'm a piece of fucking meat. I'm standing around wearing some bikini briefs that are about one size larger than a G-string, letting men and women hoot and holler at my pecs, gluts, and crotch. But this is America, land of carnivores, and in America, the best thing you can be a piece of prime cut meat, so I may as well just enjoy it.

And I'm with Knock-out, and I'd be a fucking hypocrite if I didn't admit that I'm enjoying the sight of her in her bikini. Even with all the flesh on the beach, she radiates a nervous sensuality that combined with her youth, lives up to her billing, a superhero version of Marilyn Monroe. A definite "10" on the Champion index, and you know I'm a tough grader.

So we start shooting. We get into a circle of male and female bodybuilders, and look in bewilderment as the physiques start flexing around us. Nada takes a roll of film; she doesn't go for digital images. She has her own artsy reasons for her preferences. Knock-out looks a little bored.

During a break, I introduce Knock-out to a few of the bodybuilders we're working with; yes, I've gotten to know a few players in this sweaty sideshow of would-be circus strongmen, their biceps larger than their brains (although given the size of some of these motherfuckers, that's not exactly an insult). Most of them are friendly fuckers, and they love superheroes. Grant Hendricks is probably the biggest and friendliest of the local bodybuilding community, a fucking huge African-American who makes the Brickyard look like Screech from Saved by the Bell, and a definite contender for this year's Mr. Olympia. He's really impressed by Knock-out.

"Why'd you go for the appetizer when you can have the main course?" he says, flexing his biceps.

"Shit, Grant, if you'd stop learning pick-up lines in gay bars," I say.

"I wouldn't know what they say in those places." Hendricks smiles back.

"Watch this." I smile. I look at Grant, and I concentrate, and suddenly my physique swells freakishly, to the point where it's actually a match for his. The big guy almost falls over.

"Shit." He shakes his head. "That's better than 'roids," he mutters as he walks away.

I revert to my former physique. "I can't complain with how I look," I say. "I've got great genetics. If I look as good as dad does at 45, I'll be laughing."

Of course there's always the issue whether I'll survive to be 45, or worse, whether the world will survive to my 45th birthday. But I don't want to say that out loud. Something that I said has clearly bothered Knock-out. Maybe the whole appearance issue bothers her. It's funny; women try so hard to look like fucking Barbie, to feel good about themselves by throwing on make-up and even surgery, but an honest discussion about what women will do to themselves to look good really bothers them.

"Don't let the swearing fool you," I tell Knock-out. "Hendricks and I are okay. The bodybuilding community sees me as one of their own, even if I'm a little skinny. The first thing that a lot of supervillains with manhood issues do when they get to L.A. is to step into this neighborhood and beat up some musclemen, so the people here are really glad to have someone to watch out for them."

"I just figured it was a guy thing, you two busting each other's bal-- chops," she grins. "Kind of neat that you're plugged into the community like that, though."

"A lot of the subcultures around here are like that. I never, ever dreamt in a million years that I'd become friends with a drag queen, but I've gotten to know a couple since I landed in town. Nice guys or gals or whatever they are." I grin.

Somebody has built a sandcastle in the shape of Autocrat, and Nada shoots us winding up on either side of him and tearing its head off with our punches. "Ain't nothing like the real thing." I smile.

"What was it Arnold said in that Karate Kid movie?" Knock-out asks, then imitates him, saying, "Tree not hit back... well, sand not hit back either." I laugh. She's starting to loosen up. Cool.

They fit us with boxing gloves, and we face off with each other. I'm in a bit of a playful mood, and I start throwing a few mock jabs. Knock-out's a little annoyed, but when she can see I'm playing, she gets in the spirit of things and throws one back. Unfortunately, she takes a wrong step, and I walk right into it. I stiffen like a surfboard, and I go flying back at least ten meters, most of it airborne. I tumble stiffly when I land, ending up on my stomach, and making a sizable crater on impact. Sand goes flying fucking everywhere. Shit, it must have looked like a fucking cartoon.

That punch wasn't that much weaker than Sandstone's! Shit, how strong is she?

That thought is out of my mind in a hurry as I see her break into a run. Jesus, she looks good when she moves. The perfect amount of jiggling and flexing brings her right over to me, and she looks genuinely concerned. "Tommy!" she cries, kneeling down next to me, "I'm Sorry! Sometimes I don't know my own strength!"

"But I do -- now," I deadpan, and I break out laughing. I was hoping it'd calm her down, but she's still upset.

The rest of the shoot goes pretty much without incident. We do some of the beach schticks that Nada cooked up. We run into the water and dive in. We grab big fucking motorboats, lift them over our heads, and wade into shore with them, looking like a pair of surfers. That's probably the winning shot; it does the most to make us look like superheroes.

I suggest that, as the sun sets, I pose with Knock-out and kiss her against the backdrop of the setting sun. Mom vetoes the idea. Fucking bitch.

******

KNOCK-OUT:

I can't believe I socked Tommy like that. Good thing he's tough, or I would have broken his jaw or something. Other than that big goof-up on my part (surprise), I think things went okay. I didn't enjoy getting ogled by all those muscle-beach guys, but working with Tommy was actually pretty fun, and Nada's good at what she does. Very professional, and when I first met her I didn't think she would be.

Mom's being a real bitch, frankly. Worse than usual. See, I know she's bitchy a lot of the time, but I also truly believe she always has my best interests at heart. I trust her. Anyway, she's being totally unreasonable about this whole thing with Tommy. I thought his idea for us kissing in the sunset would have been really cute. Nada loved the idea, but mom nixed it immediately. "Not appropriate," she'd said. She also vetoed my idea of inviting Tommy out to dinner with us at our hotel. She told me later than she and James had dug up a bunch of dirt on Omega recently, that there was a pending sexual assault case or something (along with some other stuff), and that I was to steer well clear of him beyond what Nada specified for the shoot. He doesn't seem like a rapist to me, but I guess I should be careful.

Honestly, I don't know quite what to think yet. He's pretty intimidating, but behind all that bluster is something else, something a lot more vulnerable. I bet he's a sweet guy, one-on-one. Just seems to kind of play a role when he has an audience. Anyway, I'm still happy to work with him, and I'm really looking forward to flying out to the Grand Canyon tomorrow. I've wanted to go there since seeing that old Brady Bunch episode as a kid, and I just hope it's half as pretty in real life as it is in pictures.

The flight out to Arizona left at a ridiculously early hour, and I'm actually unpacking my bags in the little motel we're staying at before I really feel awake. I snoozed on the plane a little, and the even on the ride from the airport. Jet-lag's got me all screwed up, I think. I also didn't get a good night's sleep last night, which isn't helping matters any. Fretting over stupid stuff.

We're on a tight schedule. The crew dumps their stuff into their rooms (as does Tommy -- I think he's three doors down the hall from us), we grab a quick bite to eat and head straight off for the Canyon. I guess the reason we're pressed for time is because of shadows, and it seems to me that Nada's actually a little uptight about getting all the shooting done in one day, because some of the set-ups are a fairly elaborate. Mom of course declares that it just has to wrap up today, because I've got stuff on my schedule back in New York that just can't wait. God, I don't even know what that stuff is. Probably the follow-up with the Protectorate. Yeah, that should be a lot of fun. I'll take the Grand Canyon and Tommy Champion, thanks.

They've got this giant RV out at the site, and that's where they're doing make-up and having Tommy and I change clothes. I'm happy to see I'm not going to be in a bikini today. It was a really chore making sure everything stayed put yesterday, even with the tape that I used. Today's attire is a little more sensible, but still sexier than something I might pick out for myself. The jean shorts they've got me in, for example, are nice -- but they're really short. The rear-end is cut to reveal a bit more of my butt cheeks than I'm comfortable with, but it's not worth arguing about. The white tank top I like. It fits like a glove, really shows off my figure without looking slutty. I think I'll see about taking it with me after the shoot. They've got my hair tied back in a simple ponytail, and it looks cute enough. There are a bunch of other accessories I'll be using throughout the day, like different hats, bandanas, jewelry, a variety of footwear, a sheer blouse to throw over my tank when it cools off and some other stuff. I'm really glad one of the assistants is keeping track of all that crap.

I grab a bagel on the way out of the RV and am munching on it as I take in the scenery. It really is beautiful. It's so much more colorful than it is on TV. It's not just all red, though that's the dominant color... there are also layers of black, gray, lavender and cream, among others. We're up near the top of the canyon on what they call the south rim, and the sky overhead is so blue I can hardly believe it. These are going to be some seriously cool shots. I catch Tommy's attention from across the location and wave him over. We exchange greetings, I apologize briefly for mom's behavior yesterday, and it's not long before Nada want us in position.

The first hour or two is pretty standard stuff, I think, except that the backdrop is so magnificent. We do poses where we're gazing into the distance, where we're rock-climbing and helping one another, and where we're perching precariously on some outcropping and ledges (I was a little nervous about those, to tell you the truth. I could survive the fall, but jeeze, it would hurt!). I can tell that Tommy and I look good together -- we look really good together, actually, but we can't hold a candle to the area's natural splendor.

Listen to me... "natural splendor" -- I sound like a PBS special or something.

Whatever. I just think the Grand Canyon rocks, and I'd like to come back.

It's dry and hot, and we have to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated and focused. I take a pee break, and when I come back, I see mom giving Tommy the third degree over something. Sticking his hand in the back pocket of my jean shorts, instead of just resting it on my hip as Nada requested, I think. Okay, this has gone far enough. I'm not going to let her ruin my being friends with him over stupid little shit like that.

I wait until mom ceases fire and moves off, then I head over towards Tommy just as Nada, annoyed at me, I think, announces that the sun's moved too much for the shot she wanted to do, and that we should all break for lunch. "We need to talk," I say to him. "Want to do lunch together somewhere -- alone?"

******

OMEGA:

"Sure. Let's fly over to that outcropping."

"But I can't--" Knock-out can't finish her sentece.

"You can now." I add a smile to my interrupting her, and there's the usual look of incredible fucking amazement on her face.

It's almost as priceless as the look on Mommy Dearest's face.

The plateau is within visual distance, so I'm not taking her out of sight of her chaperone. Although I really want to. I imagine that the binoculars are grafted to Mamma's face right now. But at least Knock-out and I can share a few private moments. When we land - and she seems really disappointed -- I concentrate, and a picnic lunch appears. Fuck, I really love my powers.

We settle down over a sandwich. I figure I have to tread carefully, so wine would be inappropriate right now -- so I pour us some grape juice.

Knock-out goes into apology mode. "I'm really sorry about my mom. I'll be straight with you -- she just doesn't like you. She's read some stuff in the press, and is convinced that you're bad news. We'll just have to work around it. I do that sort of thing all the time."

"Well, to be perfectly honest," I admit. "When you get me in the wrong mood, I'm a major asshole. I know I play one on TV, but it's not all show."

"What's up with this thing with Bandita?" she asks. She seems really reluctant. "What happened?"

I swallow really hard. "I made a mistake. It wasn't as big as the one some people think I made -- I didn't rape her. But it was still wrong. I'm not trying to bullshit you or duck the question, I'm still trying to sort out what was going through my head when we did it."

She doesn't know how to answer it. It's probably the first time I've given her a look at the side of myself that I dislike. Let's not go there. "Here. Have a pickle," I say, reaching into the picnic basket. After a few minutes of crunching pickles, we're ready for more conversation. She's the one to break the ice.

"You're young, like me, Tommy. How are you handling all the pressure? It's a pretty crazy lifestyle, isn't it? Probably for you even more than me, since I've sort of got a support structure in that mom is with me most of the time."

"I find that it's being a superhero that really grounds me. It gives me a purpose." I explain. "If I were just a guy with powers who does his own thing, I'd go nuts. But I like to help people and I like to fight, and the attention isn't too bad. It's when I'm not being a superhero that I find myself screwing up."

"After my battle with Mastodon, I'm not sure I care much for the fights," Knock-out says.

"I like bringing pain to people who deserve it," I say. "These guys enjoy making so many good people suffer, I think it's great to give them a taste of their own medicine."

"That sounds like the Outsider," Knock-out remarks, with a bit of a shudder.

"There's a bit of Outsider in anyone who puts on the tights," I remark. "But I don't think everything's as black and white as he seems to think. Some criminals just need to be shaken, not beaten. That's one of the things that went wrong with Bandita. I surprised her, and she shot me, and something snapped inside me. Nobody had ever tried to kill me, I mean really kill me before, and I kept thinking about those guns and what they would have done if I'd been a security guard, and what if the security guard had a family, and some kids who'd have to grow up without a father"

I'm not sure what she's thinking, but I've started down the hill to disastrous self-exposure, and I can't stop. "I need to learn to stop and remember the bad guys are people too." I see. "Right now, I can't seem to be able to see it. It should be obvious, but every time I've gotten into a serious fight, there's this change that comes over me."

"Like adrenaline?" Knock-out asks.

"It's more than that. I wrestled for five years in high school. I know adrenaline. I've been in plenty of scraps. I love adrenaline. I pretty much lived for the rush."

"So what's different?"

"When I use my powers in a fight, it's like I really can't describe it. I could say I become somebody else, except I know that it's still me in the body, and yet I'm not thinking the same way I do when I'm just Tommy Champion. I really wish I could articulate what happens."

"But you love the fighting?"

"Definitely. When I fight, the world gets a lot clearer. I think I get smarter, too. One of my advantages is that most people think I'm just another pretty musclehead with a dick for brains in tights, but I can be fucking crafty. And when I fight, even during those fights where I'm screaming with rage and my body's in incredible pain, there's a part of me that gets absolutely calm. I wish I had that part of me when I was doing algebra back in high school."

Knock-out can't help but laugh, even though I pretty just much admitted that I was mentally unstable. I wonder what demons she lives with? Maybe she can only become Knock-out for a few hours a day, and the rest of the time she's a fat, ugly, overweight hag. I suppose I'm too sensitive to appearance issues. I admit I'm a little prejudiced. My old girlfriend Rachel wasn't the best looking girl at Milford, but no one ever accused her of being a dog. The looks do attract me, but it's the spirit that grabs me. I think Knock-out might have that spirit.

Now if we could only throw Momma from the train

"I'm glad you've got support. I've got a few friends who help keep me in check, and I have the greatest dad in the history of humanity back in Nebraska."

"And your mom?"

"That's an ugly story. She's a good woman, but I don't see her anymore." I say, and that's that. But I came closer to telling her the story than I have to anyone in Los Angeles, even Michael. There's a long pause. I hope that Knock-out's trying to decide whether I'm worth the effort of pursuing.

"I liked your idea yesterday of the sunset kiss. Very romantic." Knock-out says. "I'd... like to try for it again today. I'll distract mom if I have to."

"I really, really want to hold you in my arms and just give you the mother of all kisses." I say. "But let's not play the Romeo and Juliet bullshit. I know it's romantic and all that, but if we can't express our feelings honestly and openly, they're not worth expressing." I touch her hand. She lets me hold it, mouth slightly agape. "Damn, this would be the perfect moment."

"Yeah," she says.

Shit! I really want to just take her in my arms and just let nature take its course, and she wants the same fucking thing! This isn't even like Leona! How the fuck did my sex life get so fucking screwed up? This is fucking killing me. But I can't force myself on her, especially after she mentioned Bandita.

"I think we've pushed ourselves as much as we can get away with here." I say. "Let's see what happens in San Francisco." I get up, and concentrate, and the picnic spread vanishes. Hey momma, here's one guy who can fucking clean up after himself! I'm tempted to say.

"Can you give me a boost?" Knock-out asks.

"You don't want to be stranded here?" I tease with an obnoxious grin.

"Where's your sense of adventure, girl?"

"It's easy to have a sense of adventure when you can fly and conjure your food out of thin air. Try having to walk to the grocery store at night in Manhattan -- now that's an adventure..." She says with a wry smile. Lifting one of her perfect eyebrows, she adds, "Now come on -- up, up and away me already!"

"There's one last bit of showing off I want to do before we go." I say. I point skyward, and over the canyon, a pair of golden eagles materializes in mid-air. There's a cry as they plummet for a few seconds, but then they manage to spread their wings and safely glide over the great rift. And then I signal, and Knock-out and I lift off, and direct her into the eagle formation to get a good close look at them before we return to the shoot. Nada, camera and telephoto lens in hand like a soldier with a gun, is getting some great shots.

******

KNOCK-OUT:

Today was like a dream. Really, like a dream, like it wasn't real. I flew today, for God's sake. Flew over some of the most beautiful terrain in the world. Being super-strong is, I have to admit, pretty cool sometimes (though I'm still getting a handle on my strength, as the repair bills from my apartment will show.), but it's nothing like flying. Flying is like total freedom. If I could fly like Tommy, I'd be in the air all the time. I'd live up there. It's like you leave all your worries, all the crap that's piled up on top of you your whole life, behind.

Tommy's powers are just unbelievable. In the press, they focus mostly on his fighting abilities from what I've seen, but today, in addition to granting me the ability to fly, he actually created a picnic lunch out of thin air. Think about that. That's way more impressive than someone lifting a dump-truck or shooting lasers out of their eyes or something. I really hope he gets it all figured out, because I think he could be one of the great ones.

The shoot itself was pretty cool, a lot more fun than yesterday even though the schedule was tighter and Nada was a little more intense. She was really happy with the shots she got of Tommy and I zipping around in the air, though, and we did a couple of cool low-altitude fly-bys just to give her some good material. Next up is the Golden Gate Bridge. We arrived in San Francisco a few hours ago, and will be starting tomorrow's shoot mid-morning, after the heaviest of the traffic is over the bridge. Nada said she was hoping to wrap things up by suppertime. Man, what a whirlwind.

The hotel we're at is just outside the city, which suits me fine. I get enough hustle and bustle back in NYC; it's kind of nice to be able to hear the sounds of nature at night. Reminds me of home. At the moment I'm relaxing in the pool just to get away from mom for a while, and to try to get a few things straight in my head. Mom was furious over the stunt Tommy and I pulled at lunchtime, but you know what? I don't care. We didn't do anything wrong. He was a perfect gentleman, actually. And that's what I'm trying to get straight in my head. I'm very attracted to him, almost on an animal kind of level. It's like I can feel this vibe about how great we'd be together -- and I think he feels it too.

But he's got that dark side. Not just the swearing -- he's really got some issues with violence, women and maybe his conscience, I think. But who am I to judge? I'm no psychologist. All I know is that I sort of gave him the "okay" to kiss me today when we were alone, and he turned me down. At the time, I wasn't shocked or anything, but I was a little surprised. And I guess a little disappointed.

I crawl up out of the pool and watch the water run off of my gorgeous, artificial body. Maybe he knows about what I used to look like... knows that I've had twenty different surgeries... knows that I was pretty much built to spec. I have this terrible fear that when people find out the truth about my looks, it's going to put them off horribly. Paula has no idea of the extent that plastic surgeons altered my body, mainly because I'm afraid of how she'll react if she finds out. Maybe Tommy knows. It wouldn't surprise me, given his powers.

Toweling off, another thought crosses my mind -- maybe he's just really feeling burned about the whole Bandita thing and the media hounds at his heels. If so, that's a good sign. A sign of a more thoughtful Tommy Champion -- like the guy I had lunch with today, not the guy accused of nearly beating Halcyon to death. We've got so much growing to do, he and I... it's crazy for the public to think eighteen and nineteen-year-olds with powers like we've got will be perfect role models right out of the box. We'll see what happens tomorrow. I'm secretly hoping Tommy and I will fly out to the bridge together, without the helicopter. God, I'd love to fly again.

Mom's inside the motel room, watching bad late-night TV. She just glares at me as I enter the room, a dark look on her face. "The studio called," she says. "They need some paperwork signed before they can proceed with the next step in the audition process, so I have to fly back to Los Angeles."

Stifling my joy under a blank stare, I simply answer, "Okay. I can handle it."

She sees straight through me. "You remember what I told you about Mr. Champion. I don't want his dangerous and juvenile antics affecting your career. I almost pulled you off the shoot today after you pulled that stunt, Sarah. I almost canceled the rest of our appointments out here and put you on a plane back to New York."

"Look, mom," I begin, knowing whatever I say won't change her mind, "Tommy and I have some things in common -- that's why I asked if he wanted to have a private lunch with me. So we could talk -- talk about what it's like to be a teenager with all this pressure, to have powers like the ones that we have."

"And did Mr. Champion share his wisdom? His valuable insights into human nature and what it means to be a hero?"

I want to scream "Fuck you!" like I did at James Radisson that time, but I don't. Instead, I say, "In a way, yeah. He's troubled, mom, it's true. He's got some things to work out -- but Jesus, so do I. Do you know how it feels to have your face erased, to have a brand new one slapped on? To have all of your physical flaws pointed out in excruciating detail, to have whole teams of specialists crawl over every inch of your body in search of things they can change for the 'better?' To have to admit that everything you'd ever learned to do on your own was wrong? My clothes, my friends, my voice, my accent -- mom, you completely changed who I was. Who I am."

I can see fury burning brightly in her eyes. "You ungrateful little bitch!" she screeches, getting off the bed and coming at me. I just stand there as she slaps me in the face, and I can tell it really stings her hand. "Do you know what kinds of sacrifices your father and I have made for you? Made to give you the opportunity you're about to waste if you let that God-damned sleazy piece of trash down the hall get his hooks into you? You were nothing, Sarah, a nobody," she spits. "You were an embarrassment to our family. When your strength manifested, I saw it as your ticket out of a life of pathetic mediocrity. You'd be pregnant for a second or third time in a trailer park somewhere if I hadn't taken charge and made you what you are today. And you'd still be fat, and ugly, and useless. You're beautiful now only because of the sacrifices we made."

I should be strong, I know, but I'm not. Her words really hurt, and the tears come streaming. She berates me for another full five minutes, until finally I can't take it any more. Sobbing, I run out into the hallway and down towards Tommy's room. I stand at the door for a second or two, crying quietly and wishing I could knock. I just need to be held by someone -- I haven't been held since I left home, since dad nearly squeezed the life out of me at the airport. But I can't dump this on Tommy. I don't want him to see me like this -- I don't want him to think I'm weak.

I reach the night air, and it's cool and sharp on my bare skin. If I weren't so upset, I'd note that I love the West Coast weather -- it actually cools off after the sun goes down. Not like South Carolina, where the heat gets all tangled up with the humidity, making sleeping without AC nearly impossible for half the year. But I am upset, and so instead of marveling at the purple hues bathing the landscape, and at the spectacular canopy of stars overhead, I just run. My feet are bare, since I haven't put anything on since coming out of the pool, but they're tough enough to not worry about as I bolt through the night. I run all-out for like three minutes, and by the time I stop to turn around, the hotel is just a distant cluster of lights.

Finding myself a good sitting-rock, I plunk down and finish crying. My shoulders shake as I finally let it all out, not caring how I sound or look. I really don't know if I'm up to this. Mom and dad have gambled everything (and then some) on me becoming a superstar, and the pressure of not letting them down is starting to really get to me. The Protectorate interview was a joke -- I'm not even in the same league as those guys, physically, mentally or emotionally. Then when I try to help out Zodiac, Mastodon nearly hands me my teeth. The looks I've got down. That's why I'm here, after all -- because I look good next to Tom Champion. If this were based on accomplishments, they wouldn't even know my name. So what happens when people get tired of looking at my tits?

I get dropped straight from the flavor-of-the-week lineup into the where-are-they-now file, that's what, and I drag my parents down with me, where we all get to drown under the ridiculous debts we've built up.

******

OMEGA:

I've never been to San Francisco, and my first impression of this place, flying over it, is that I can't believe anyone actually built a city on such fucking steep hills. No wonder they're scared of quakes; all the buildings have already got a head start on the downhill slide. Still, I love flying over it. I'm not somebody who appreciates architecture or construction, but this city's buildings are absolutely charming. It reminds me more of what I think Europe must look like than Los Angeles or Omaha or Las Vegas - this is a place with genuine class and sophistication. Fuck, it makes me want to leave town before I get a chance to shit on the place and ruin the whole fucking burg.

You know, farmboy, I tell myself. You really haven't been very far.

Yet. I reply with a smile. Give me some time, and I'll own the place.

I circle around the Bay for a bit, just getting my bearings, watching the lights on the bridge. It's a calmer feeling than I get from the waters in Los Angeles; this town (with the exception of its commute from Hell) runs at a different beat. No wonder all the gays flock here.

A few minutes later, I have a really strange premonition. Knock-out's in trouble. She needs me. There's a tightening in my stomach, my throat, and in my balls. I knew a fucking supervillain would show up sooner or later. I knew it! Goddamn them! I swear if Mastodon or Sandstone or any of those motherfuckers have done anything to her, I'll find new ways to express the concept of "making you writhe in fucking agony for hours before I put you out of the world's goddamn misery".

I get a feel for Knock-out's general direction, and I fly full speed towards it. She's south of me, in the direction of the hotel. A sonic boom marks my concern, and for a second, the denizens of San Francisco are probably thinking "earthquake".

She's sitting on a rock. The expression on her face makes it look like she's been through Hell, almost as though she's been crying. What the fuck? She's barefoot, and wearing a one-piece bathing suit. It's only her face and her posture that makes it look somebody's been tearing at her soul. Her soul? Oh God, please don't let it be

"Hi." Her voice is meek, defeated.

I get close to her and examine her. I don't get the impression that the Priest has been screwing with her. Fuck, talk about being an idiot. "I was worried about you," I finally say. "Not that you can't take care of yourself"

"I'd really appreciate a hug, Tommy," she says.

"Don't have to ask me twice!" The last word is spoken with an "omph!";

Knock-out's squeezing me pretty damn hard, her face buried in my chest. Shit, this is great. Great for me, that is; it looks like her entire fucking world has fallen apart. What the fuck happened? "You okay?" I ask, and then I try to make her laugh. "My magical powers are detecting that something's really wrong." I say, trying to mock myself.
 

"Oh, I just feel like I can't live up to some people's expectations... like my mother's. I know it's stupid, but I can't help it. She and dad are so far in debt it's not funny because of me. So if I don't hit the big time, they'll lose everything. I think about that daily, and second-guessing every decision I make is getting exhausting. Was having lunch alone with you today a mistake? According to mom it was. What's right for Sarah and what's right for Knock-out are frequently two different things, and I'm starting to see that more and more. It sucks."

"Your name is Sarah? That's really nice." I pause. "It sounds like your parents did at least two things right: they had a wonderful daughter, and they gave her a cool name. And I can't imagine anyone who wouldn't go into debt for a girl like you"

Shit, where did the fucking Alan Alda side of me come from? This morning, I didn't think I was falling in love. I liked Knock-out, sure, I was attracted to her, definitely. Now I'm seeing behind this blond hair and blue eyes, there's an incredibly screwed up and frightened little girl, and it's really getting to me, in a good way. Who'd have thought it? (And how long will it last?) I pull her head up so she can look at me. Smile, Tommy. Let's make her happy. Do somebody some good for once in your goddamn life.

"You're not answering the question!" she protests.
 

"First of all, we didn't do anything wrong at lunch. Second, name me one thing that you've done wrong."

"Well, my fight with Mastodon didn't go so well. If the Zodiac hadn't been there..."

"From everything I heard you gave him a great scrap until the Baroness showed up," I say, remembering reports of the fight. "Even veteran heroes wouldn't be able to cope against those two, not two-on-one. Did the Protectorate tell you that you'd done badly?"

"Well, the Zodiac"

"Now you weren't expecting useful immediate feedback from that eunuch, were you?" I grin. I wonder what John would do in this situation. He'd probably flash those snow-white teeth of his, tell the world's funniest joke, and then Sarah would forget that I ever existed and become his girlfriend. Oh, fuck that Canuck. "You went toe-to-toe with two of the fucking Royal Elite, two of the nastiest homicidal maniacs in the entire world, and you didn't see those idiots in the Protectorate giving you a reasonable amount of back-up, did you?"

I'm not sure that Sarah is buying this, but I sure as hell am. I continue my rant. "How the hell did the Zodiac know that there was only one member of the Royals there? You two could have been facing the entire fucking team. They ought to be grateful to you that you stood there against Mastodon without flinching. If the Protectorate doesn't accept someone with your courage and your potential into their team, they are complete fools, and I'll personally fly up to their pissant satellite and beat some sense into Avatar and his whole goddamn pantheon if he can't see that!"

Sarah looks up at me intently. I'm not sure if she's going to laugh or cry.

"I mean it! Somebody needs to put Babylon Five britches in his place. He's been acting awful uppity lately." I smile. "So you are going to make it, I know it, and so should you!" I insist. My hand reaches up to her cheek.

Damn, I must sound like one of those infomercial hucksters trying to act like Tony Robbins while selling the most embarrassing pieces of shit ever invented. But the girl needs confidence. "Whatever problems you have right now are going to be short term. This whole money issue is going to be over in a month or two" (Mind you, I don't know how much debt she's in). "And you're going to be a member in good standing with the Protectorate, and the next time we see each other, you're going to be so embarrassed to be seen around a corporate shill like me that you won't want to admit we worked together."

"I don't think so, Tommy," she says.

"I know so." I reply. "So why don't you give me a kiss, girl, and maybe we can make all this crap go away for awhile?"

And then we finally kiss. Her lips are a little pudgy, great to look at, not quite so good to feel, but my hormones are racing so hard it doesn't fucking matter. The kiss lasts about thirty seconds. Her breath is sweet. I grope her breasts, which feel weird, like she's had too many breast implants, but again, I don't really care. And we start tearing at each other's clothing, and we both know where this is going. With one final bit of mojo, I slap a field around us that will make us invisible to the outside world while we have sex. No sense in letting momma catch us in the act.

Unfortunately, the strain of maintaining the invisibility field wears me out in a matter of seconds, before we can even get started. I have just got to stop overestimating what I can do with these fucking powers. I suggest to Sarah that we find a place where we can have complete privacy. I carry her in my arms and fly off to the top of one of the hills southeast of Oakland. There are some abandoned windmills there, high-tech windmills that didn't quite produce the energy output that the '70s enviro-geeks thought they would. The place is deserted except for some sheep grazing. The ground is cold and a little hard.

"Now this is cool," I say, lying on my back. "Look at all those stars. They're much better out here than in the city."

"Mm," she responds, obviously thinking about what we're about to do instead of the stars.

"So, here we are. One final chance to back off." I say. "If you say no, we'll have 'might-have-beens' for the rest of our lives. But if you say yes, there could be unforeseen consequences. The unknown."

"But don't you want to?" Sarah asks me, a little upset. It must seem to her like I'm teasing. Fuck this gentleman bullshit, that's all I need to hear. Time to jump dem bones. I roll over on top of her, removing our clothes with a thought. And then we have sex. Every time I've tried to have sex in this superhero body, I'm just too powerful for my partner, and it ends up a disaster. But finally, thank fucking God, I've finally found someone who can do it with me. And shit, she's good. It's obvious that she's no virgin, but I really gotta wonder what goes off in the fucking heads of people who get off on shit like that.

We go for at it for about half an hour, and then we stop to deal with our exhaustion. There's lots of sideways looks and heavy panting and the coupling of hands. Fuck, I could almost go for a smoke.

"Wow," she says with a satisfied-looking grin.

"Keep saying stuff like that, and I'll develop an ego problem," I grin, and I roll over and kiss her again. I also work some of my power on her body, setting up a tickle field whose actual purpose is to kill any sperm that may be trying to inseminate her; sorry little guys, but getting pregnant now would pretty much kill her career, and I don't feel like doing it for Sarah. Maybe one day, Sarah and I can get into a situation where we can have a permanent relationship, and then I can have a few little Tommys running around.

"So... how was it?" she asks.
 

I concentrate up in the sky, and suddenly there's a burst of fireworks. Beautiful red and blue fiery trails light up the sky and startle sheep and cattle for miles around us. Too bad for them.

"All right, I've seen that kind of magic trick once too often now -- how do you do that?" Sarah says. "Where does this stuff come from?"

"I dunno. I'm one of the 'Seven Chosen.'" I laugh, making an "oogity-boogity" noise when I pronounce the title. "When I was born, three wise men arrived at Omaha General bearing gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh."

"You're joking, aren't you?"

"Oh God, I hope so." I laugh. "I'm good, but if the world has to rely on me as its savior, humanity had better start looking for a new goddamn planet. I have no idea where this stuff comes from. The doctor up at Colorado State who tested it called it a 'magiopotent manipulation of fundamental probability fields'. You try interpreting that bullshit."

I get up, and put back on my clothes with a thought. "Your mother must be freaking out. Let's get you back to the hotel."

"Not yet," she says, getting to her feet as well. "I don't know about you, but it's not every day I click with someone... well, with someone I don't have to worry about breaking in half during sex."

"Me too," I say.

Without asking, she opens my pants, drops down and starts giving me oral.

"Oh oh that must be your superbreath power." I moan. Shit, superhero sex lines are so goddamn funny!

She only briefly stops to give me a dirty look. I smile and nudge her head down to my crotch, and from that point she doesn't miss a beat. She's a little awkward at first, tentative with her strength. I tell her that she's blowing the toughest cock on the planet (and I could be right), and that she needs to keep on going. And she does. Fuck, she's good. Pretty soon I'm riding her hard, and it's even better than it was the first time. She's more comfortable with herself, less inhibited and quite a lot louder. We don't last nearly as long this time, but Jesus Christ, it's intense. It's one of those fucks where all you care about is nailing it, getting off. We both do within seconds of one another, and when I hit the ground this time I don't have the energy to even say anything for a good ten minutes.

Fuck, I feel just like the President of the United States.

"Tommy?" Sarah asks, snuggled up beside me.

I sigh. I can tell what she's thinking just by the sound of her voice. "I'm not sure where we go next, Sarah. I like you a lot. You like me. But we also live on opposite coasts, our careers are going in separate directions, I'm a borderline psychotic, and you've got the mother from Hell. And while I happen to be available right now, I'd be really surprised if there wasn't some great guy waiting for you back home. I'd love it if what we shared tonight continues. But I don't want it to effect the long-term happiness for either one of us."

"Tom, I know all that," she says quietly. "I know it's not like we're going to go steady or something. We've both got way too much going on, and we need to straighten our own lives out before we start messing around in each other's. I just want you to know that I kind of understand what you're going through out here. I know it's not easy. If you need a friend to talk to about some of this stuff, you can fly to New York City every now and then so we can talk. And fuck. Both at the same time, if you want."

I just sit back and laugh. Shit, for once in my life, things couldn't be more perfect. I haven't felt this good, this much at peace, in so many fucking years. This was just fun, no complications, no consequences. And I don't have to respect her in the morning, even if I goddamn do.

We fly back to the hotel. The view of San Francisco's evening skyline is breathtaking, but both of our minds are on other things. Sarah's quiet, almost peaceful, as the wind blows her hair against my face. I'm wondering how things are going to go with her mother. Fucking bitch. She treats Sarah like Jon-Benet Ramsey. Hopefully when Sarah joins the Protectorate, Trinity or someone like her will realize the shit that's being done to her and put a stop to it.

******

KNOCK-OUT:

I haven't slept so soundly in over two years. I think that's about how long it's been since I've had sex with someone. As a teen, my powers just kept getting stronger, and it just got too dangerous to risk hurting someone. But Tommy's as tough as I am, most likely tougher -- so for once I didn't have to worry about squeezing, pulling or nudging anything too hard. Well, not much, anyway.

We're in our costumes today. I guess Nada picked this as a scenic and recognizable urban setting, and wants us to prance around the bridge, looking sometimes like we're protecting it, and others like we're getting ready to fight over it. A lot of the tension between Tommy and I is gone... now it's starting to really be fun to work with him. I wonder if the crew has noticed a change? And not all the tension is gone... the good tension, the sexual tension is there in a different way. Instead of sort of having to keep a lid on our feelings because we didn't know how the other person felt, now we're fighting with not seeing every situation as a potential sexual one. Some of them I really want to explore, actually, like doing it while flying. How wild would that be?

Mom left for L.A. early this morning without saying two words to me, other than to remind me of my flight times. She'd been in bed when I got back to the room last night, and would in no way understand what I experienced under the stars -- especially since it was with Tommy Champion. I'll probably tell her at some point, but it'll be long after we get back to New York, that's for sure. In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy her absence. For one thing, Tom and I are going to share that on-camera kiss, right at the top of the bridge. Nada's relieved she's finally going to get that shot.

It's more than that, though. I get to make all my own decisions. I don't have someone holding my hand, propping me up. And you know what? It feels wonderful. A little scary at times, when executive-level types of decisions have to be made, but overall the feeling is exhilarating. My spirits are higher this morning than they've been in a long, long time. Part of it is mom not being here to bring me down, part of it is Tommy's pep talk (yeah, I know it was just a pep talk, but he really made quite a lot of sense), and a big part of it, of course, was screwing my ass off last night. I guess I hadn't realized quite how frustrated I'd become.

I flirt a little with the camera, and with Tommy. I'm not feeling too self-conscious in my costume today -- in fact, I'm thinking I look pretty good in it. Nada picks up on my mood, and runs with it, planning a series of more daring shots. That first day, on the beach, I think I looked pretty damned uncomfortable with Tommy hugging my leg. I bet a lot of those pictures will be useless because of the uncomfortable look on my face. I was better yesterday, but I think still a little tentative with both Tommy and Nada's lenses. Today, all bets are off. If Nada wants me to wrap my legs around Tommy's neck while we play-fight, fine. Pretend to smother him between my breasts? Whatever. They're just silly pictures for a sillier magazine, after all.

******

OMEGA:

I don't go to Nike very often anymore. The Grinch (a.k.a. me) only graces the hallowed halls of Shoeville about twice each week, for publicity strategy sessions and other contractual bullshit. It's become a pain to have to put up with the marketing weasels and their fucking plans for me; four times out of five, they tell me something, we make an arrangement, and then they change it because someone else's come up with a better idea that almost inevitably worse than the original (or at best, is just as fucking lame).

The city of Los Angeles, the one place on earth where people go to fucking war over the ownership of bullshit. Is it any wonder I hate going to Nike? But Leona's there, and so is Michael, and I get a perverse delight out of busting Frigia's chops.

But today, I'm glad to go. People has sent us a rough version of America's Hottest Young Titans, the issue featuring me and Knock-out, and it's a chance to get an extensive look of the pictures they took. The cover is a cut and paste of the two of us against the Hollywood sign -- why the fuck didn't they take that shot when we were here? The proportions don't even look right. I'll bet Nada's fucking pissed.

But inside, the pictures look great. Smiling, happy, superpeople playing. Fuck, is Sarah ever photogenic. A lot more than I am, the camera never seems to capture me right. "You know, this may put all those gay rumors to rest for awhile," Michael grins.

"At least until I sit down and have that interview with The Advocate." I deadpan.

"Isn't anyone going to comment on my cover story for Macleans?" Permafrost asks with a lot of whining.

"Mac-what?" I ask.

"Canada's major newsmagazine. It's like Time of the North," John answers.

"Whatever." I don't mean to seriously diss John. I love him like a brother, but it's fun watching that exaggerated wounded look show up on his face. He really should go into movies. He's the perfect comedian, but then Canada always seem to have a fucking gift for comedy.

"So did you do her?" Michael asks, looking at the picture of me and Sarah kissing.

"I left my hard-on, in San Francisco," I start singing. Everybody's heads are turning in disgust except for Michael's; he's busy laughing his ass off.

"Men!" Frigia snorts, shaking her head. "You force that poor girl to dress up in clothing that's too slutty for an airport stripper, just for a cheap masturbatory thrill. And this is your idea of what a female superhero should be."

"Actually," I say, "it's her mother that dresses her that way. She's a bitch even by your standards, Michelle."

"Well, at least I know enough not to have a daughter and subject her to that sort of abuse," Frigia answers haughtily.

"Why bother having a daughter, when you can terrorize an entire marketing department?" Michael goads her.

"At least they're getting paid for it," Frigia answers. "Well, I've had enough of you two for the week. If either of them gets arrested, somebody page me." With that, Frigia makes one of her patented dramatic exits. But she doesn't bother me anymore. The insults have become a game, for both of us, at least until the next time something serious happens. The room gradually clears, until it's just me and Michael. I can't take my eyes off those pictures.

"So are you admiring yourself, or did she get to you?" Michael asks, noting my obsession.

I shrug. "It's my first feature article. Or at least it's the first feature in awhile that doesn't portray me as some sort of psychotic rapist."

"People Magazine has such high standards of journalistic excellence," Michael says sarcastically.

"Fuck you," I snap.

"Yeah, fuck me," Michael dismisses my comment. "So tell me what it was like, having sex with the strongest woman in the world? It must have been something."

"She was well, she was a perfect lady. I didn't have the heart to force myself on her." I say, with some reticence.

"You have got to be kidding me, farmboy!" Michael exclaims. "You had that in your arms and you didn't do everything in your power to do the dirty deed?"

"No," I complete the lie.

"She did get to you. Fuck!" Michael says, patting me on the back. "And here I thought you were Mankind's last hope, and then you go and fall in love."

Michael is laughing as he walks out of the room, leaving me alone with some pictures. He's teasing me, of course, and I don't mind it. I can see why he worries about love, and why Frigia won't risk having a family, and why Sarah's mom seems incapable of loving her daughter, and why my relationship with Rachel fell apart. Love requires one thing above all else: the courage to surrender control, to let raw emotions control your destiny, and to tell anyone who's saying "don't stop thinking about tomorrow" that they're full of shit. Love is when yesterday and tomorrow mean 'fuck all'. Let's see someone put that on a Hallmark.

If I were to pursue any relationship with Knock-out, I'm not sure I could find that courage. I'm a real controlling bastard. So maybe what I'm feeling isn't love, maybe we're just sex friends. If that's true, that's okay. I think I made Knock-out feel better about herself, and that's a victory, and I've got someone new to lean on in my darker moments who might understand me better, and that's a victory too. And when you wave at the fucking Grim Reaper on a daily basis, who the fuck is anyone to tell you that's not important?

Home    Gaming Guidelines    PC Roster    NPC Roster